Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Five watercolor paintings of girls without clothes

My first few blog posts will be some older paintings and drawings. No great reason for this other than to have them seen by everyone I get to come visit this blog...they were originally in other blogs like Myspace. I'll do some brief walkthroughs on them as  I have pictures of them in various stages of completion.

This was the first one I did after a break from painting. I worked pretty tight on these which means I like to have a fairly detailed underdrawing done first. Something that provides fairly accurate dimensions and proportions where as I lay more and more layers of color down I can also erase the pencil lines as I progress.

Even at this early stage I had come to the realization that the 10 X 15 inch dimension of the paper was going to be too small to accomplish the detail I would have liked to paint with her face and hair. Those specific areas would have been much easier to paint at a much larger scale. I chose to do this painting for a few reasons.

I liked the idea of some of the edges of her body simply fading into the white of the page (which is why I never painted in a background). Her body is posed with a nice long stretch to it. And the blue hair was intended to be a nice punch of color in an otherwise light and open image.

As I go along, its a continuing process of managing both the layers of colors in the right places and the contrast levels of the image. The idea being, that if this was photocopied as a black and white image, it would still look correct. This is about halfway through the process, and as you'll see with a lot of my work that I generally like to use a limited palette. Many times I can use as little as 3 colors in a painting, my favorites being ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, and burnt sienna. But as a rule, that's just what I use most and then choose some other brighter colors more sparingly. And I never use black as a color out of the tube. I will mix my darkest value from other colors making it as warm or cool as needed. The idea being that whatever this darkest dark is will be black to the naked eye. I just feel that once you start mixing in the actual color black (from out of the tube) into your palette that the process can get muddy and dull.

This stage looks a lot more like a finished result with the dark hair laid in, and more attention has been paid to details like the face and tattoos. Because of the issue I had with working some areas smaller than I would have liked, they have already been overworked and I have laid color over areas I wanted to remain lighter. The executive decision becoming one to go back over some areas with colored pencil to make detail corrections. Not a huge deal, as I wasn't able to get the blue paint to be as vibrant a color as I would have wished.




I get to a point where its a fine line between your eyes playing tricks at you from looking at the same image for so long at such a close distance and feeling paranoid about making the mistake of overworking areas I won't be able to easily hide or fix. A good idea is to pin it to the wall and walk away from it for half a day or so and look at it later with fresh eyes to find any obvious issues (that you were too close to see previously) that need attention. This one came out fairly well considering...


  1. I was knocking some rust off while doing this piece.

  2. After starting, it was pretty obvious I chose to work a little too small for this specific image.

  3. the paper this was done on had been stretched on the board months before and somehow the surface became a little worn which made some of the edges hard to control and some unwanted bleeding happened throughout the process that I was constantly fighting.
After finishing that slump-buster and having dealt with all kinds of other issues that I shouldn't have with future paintings going forward like damaged and bleeding paper or working too small, I felt that future images would have a much more satisfying end result. Not really much to explain here, another underdrawing I'd be erasing bit by bit as more and more color is laid down...

I assume I'll be explaining less and less of the process with each image as there is no need to repeat the same information too many times, just new issues and information relevant to the specific image...

As you can see, this one is much more of a close-up done on the same size paper as the last. Hopefully succeeding in avoiding all of the major frustrations of trying to cram 10 pounds of detail into a 5 pound bag.

I tried to block in all the warm colors first using yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and another red whose name now escapes me. I tried to be a little more impressionistic on this one hopefully showing more pronounced brush strokes and blocks of color and less finer blending. But since my process is more about layering lots of light washes of color over one another, some of that gets lost by the final stage of the process.

Next was obviously to lay in some cooler values of ultramarine blue and another cooler purple-ish red (alizarin crimson maybe??? can't remember).  Depending on the person and the lighting, skin tones are generally not accurately represented solely with the flesh toned or peach colored crayon in the crayola box. People have skin with a lot of purples and greens in areas like eye sockets and because of things like veins under our skin. Its kinda cool realizing how fun it is to know you're painting green on someones face and its going to look correct.

Much farther along now and actually starting to tackle some of the details. I'm starting to block in some of the darker values including the hair so that I have a good reference of contrast on the painting as a whole to know whether certain other areas are rich/dark enough. The warm tones seemed a lot darker than they actually are when they were the only values on a white page. Once I put something much darker on the page, they lightened up considerably as my perception of the whole was changed. Its all about the little relationships. the relationships between the warm and cool values and also the light and dark contrasts. Its hard to know where one needs to be without its opposite being worked at the same time.

As you can see, it is an unconscious priority to finish the boobs a lot sooner than the rest of the image :) It happens...Even back at RISD (almost 20 years ago) during a 3-day painting session with a live nude model. At the end of day two, a friend of mine pointed out to me how I had two perfectly rendered boobs in the middle of an otherwise still mostly unfinished painting. Sounds perfectly normal to me. 


And now the end result...I was extremely happy with how it came out and how much less stressful this one was to do because of a lack of bullshit issues, faulty materials and poor planning. I stuck mostly to the source reference image and didn't make too many editorial changes other than not pushing the purple hair color as bright and funky as it actually was. Also, the background tone almost wasn't there but I decided it would look strange with just the white paper background and only one cropped edge. The muted green works good as a subtle opposite value to her skin tones as opposed to maybe repeating the purple.

OK...blah, blah, blah, I actually got more detailed with this underdrawing wishing to make sure that I had all of her tattoos in the right spots and the right proportions because its a lot easier to erase a pencil line than a splash of paint put in the wrong spot. I had already identified a potential problem area being her chest which had a lot of light reflection on it. So I already had it in my mind to keep considering how to get it looking anatomically correct while also accurately fading the tattoos in and out of the bright spots. I also made the decision to not paint her right arm as it was in the source photo. It would have been cut off by the border and instead tried to imply that its going further back behind her body and blocked from view by her torso. I also did more liquid masking than I normally would to preserve some of the highlight areas in her face, hair and bracelet instead of having to remember to paint around all of those spots.

This time, I started with darker and cooler values laying in washes of blue to establish shadow areas and set most of the tattoos in place to allow me to erase a lot of the drawing sooner than later. My thinking being that if I didn't start too dark, that some of the tattoos would look right under some washes of skin tones rather than trying to paint them on top later on and not feeling as much like part of the skin. Then some warmer tones to start working those relationships.

Each painting takes on its own personality and dictates a different order for the process. I knew not to leave the background as an afterthought and to start working on it earlier on. I knew with all the details at the edge of the hair that doing the background first was the right choice. If I did it after the hair was done, I would have some issues with washing out some edges and detail. At first it started to look like a half-assed sunset or a shitty bar drink with one syrupy color sitting above another in the same glass. Since I wanted it to remind me of neither of these things, I knew it needed more work.


I am always constantly convinced that these aren't coming out right and they're a lost cause. Its usually during the last 10 percent of the work that it really starts to come together quickly.  I think I did an adequate job of getting the chest to look correct, and I think the colors and lighting on her face are good. I remembered to work the tattoos throughout the process to make sure they feel incorporated properly in the image as part of her skin and agreed with the lighting. I worked more on the background and eliminated that fruity drink look going darker to help make the body pop forward into the foreground. If I had one thing to fix on this it would be to somehow eliminate some of that unintentional outline effect around some of the edges of her body.

No major challenges with this one other than getting the likeness correct...something in and of itself meaningless to almost anyone viewing it unless they personally know the model. Working a little smaller with this one, a more straightforward painting. I felt the biggest challenge would be making the hair look real and correct.

Once again working on the background at an earlier stage to make it more a part of the entire image and to also help get the contrast relationships down to help show depth and pop certain parts of her forward. I was also considering to possibly fade the hair out into the background a little more than in the source photo.

Just more progress. Working some of the facial details and putting in more cooler values in the skin tones and shadows while also darkening the background. I'm also blocking in some basic shadows in the hair to get some sense of the flow and lighting.

Hair is a real bitch for me to paint. I find it extremely difficult to preserve a lot of the highlights properly or capture certain details. It got to a point where I ended up way off from the source image and kinda winged it in trying to do what made it feel and look correct. At this stage just keeping with working the skin tones and relationships, while further darkening the background and fighting through the frustrations I experience rendering hair.


One technique I end up using for working with hair after I've already painted certain areas too dark is to go back in afterward with a clean wet brush and scrub out some brighter highlights. It can damage the paper but it also creates an unique effect where the paint I'm scrubbing out gets pushed out and around the area I'm working to create a darker outline around the highlight maybe actually helping create even more contrast. Like I said, hair can be a bitch to do...definitely not my favorite part of most portraits.

This one was for sale on eBay and as a result found myself receiving the strangest message...

My wife died in 1998 in lake bonny fl and this is her. I need to know who painted this portrait. so please if you know the artist I would really appreciate the knowledge before I bid.

I explained to him that I had done the painting a few days before and that the woman who modeled for it was definitely not his wife...


Thank you for your reply. And might I add that it is a great painting. When I seen this painting it brought out a lot of feelings in me even though she's been gone 11 year. And in all honesty it freaked me out. Thank you for the info.


Now all I want to do is see a picture of his dead wife. And while dropping hints that he should send me a picture, I offered him a good deal on the painting...

I'm fighting demons within myself over this. I miss my wife dearly but for me to move on I don't need  to see a likeness of her. But to look upon a portrait of her likeness every now and then would be so sweet. I do wish you the best on this but it is something I have to figure out on my own. Thank you for your time and patience.
So, the end result was I got a little creeped out over a painting I did, and some other "lucky" bastard bought it and gets to look at a haunted painting of some other dude's dead wife every day.

Another smaller piece. More of a straight-up face portrait/head shot kinda deal. This one appealed to me for a lot of different reasons including the tattoo, exotic features and another hair challenge. So yadda, yadda, here's another beginning line drawing.

To not repeat myself too much, just an early stage of blocking in darks and lights and working on warm and cool relationships in the skin tones. This one was easy to do and no problems really arose including, surprisingly, the hair.

This is the "one step away from finished" shot and everything's basically just farther along. I think I'm getting better at working the painting as a whole instead of working individual parts to differing stages of completion. It saves a lot of work because a lot of times you fool yourself into thinking that certain things are correct until you lay in the darkest parts of the painting and then realize there needs to be more work in other areas that previously seemed to be dark enough.


Done. In a lot of ways, this one was my favorite to do even though I am not happy with one part of it. I think the tattoo could have been done better and I think the brush I used wasn't fine enough for what I was trying to accomplish. On the other hand, the hair I  happy with and ironically, I did it petty quickly and effortlessly. I left it a little less "finished" than her face but thought it looked fine and didn't want to keep working it until I had messed it up. She has a pretty face, and I really enjoy doing detailed facial features a lot. 

Uno mas. One note of no significance was that I decided not to include one of the 2 necklaces she was wearing. I think it had a gold sailboat hanging from it...but not in my painting. Anyway, another pencil sketch so I know which colors go with which numbers.

There were several places where I wanted to preserve the white of the page for highlights. Especially on the gold chain and glass container hanging from it which would be doing a lot of the work of actually representing the jewelry itself. So I went heavy with the masking fluid. And again, at least laid down a little tone early on for the background to help resolve contrast issues earlier in the process.

Getting to the more detailed-oriented stages. Having by this time also erased all of the underdrawing and worked out the way to show the jewelry. The photo is a little misleading being a little warmer than it actually is, its still a good representation of the stages of progress.


And finally done. The major concern on this one having been getting the glass reflective jewelry correct without ending up with stuff looking outlined. Also not making the color detail around the eyes too prominent and ending up making her look tired or beat up. Generally, any shadows being dark enough without looking like bruising.

Sorry that this one was a long post, I just felt like putting all of these paintings together in one post.

1 comment: